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June 28, 2005

Board of Regents to consider plan for closing SDSD dormitory

From: Aberdeen American News, SD - Jun 28, 2005

Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Closing the South Dakota School for the Deaf's only dormitory would free up money for programs and help the school meet future needs of students and their families, officials said Tuesday.

Because of changes in deaf education and more frequent use of cochlear implants, fewer children are staying in the SDSD dorm, said Tad Perry, executive director for the regents, who oversee the Sioux Falls school.

Enrollment projections show six students likely would live in the dorm during the next fiscal year, down three from the current year.

"There other are ways to accommodate the handful (of students) who would need residential services," said Perry, who will recommend closing the dorm at a regents meeting Thursday in Aberdeen.

Students from towns outside Sioux Falls who need a place to live would be placed with foster families, said Perry. The student's home school district would be responsible for setting up those accommodations.

"We thought it was better to let the school districts make the appropriate arrangements and not try to preserve a residential facility for such a small number of students," he said.

As more students with cochlear implants attend the school, the need for staff and programs in that area has increased, said Perry. The surgically implanted devices provide an artificial sensation of hearing and that leads many users to develop speech.

Some of the money now spent to maintain the dorm could be shifted to programs for students with cochlear devices as well as the school's traditional sign-language programs, said Perry.

During the last budget year, $231,000 was allotted for the dormitory, according to a regents report.

The proposal to close the dorm came from SDSD officials and has been part of an ongoing discussion about the future of the school, said Perry.

Maureen Schloss, SDSD superintendent, said parents were told a year ago about plans to close the dorm. Fewer families want a dorm setting for their children and have decided to move into Sioux Falls so their child can attend SDSD or have opted for some other kind of program, she said.

"We're simply looking a dwindling number," said Schloss.

The dorm will be closed this fall if regents approve the plan, she said. School officials are reviewing options for its use if it is closed, she said.

"It is a step toward what we are doing to meet the (future) needs of children and their families," said Schloss.

Historically, a dorm setting gave deaf children of hearing parents a place to be with adults and other children who also were deaf, Perry said in a report he prepared for the regents. Students living in a dorm have a chance to use American sign language outside the classroom and can join in social activities that help their development, he said.

But with cochlear implants, many deaf and hard of hearing children have learned to speak. They can interact with their hearing parents and siblings at home and often are placed in regular classrooms, said Perry.

Deb Skjeveland, a deaf parent with three deaf children enrolled at SDSD, said she understands why the regents would want to shut down the dorm given the small number of students who use it.

But it could be a hardship for some, said Skjeveland, president of the advisory board at SDSD. Some families have strong communication in place at home, she said in an e-mail interview.

"But there are families who do not know sign language and the deaf student is left out and isolated at home," she wrote. "This is where the dorm life is an asset for the deaf student because they do have access to their language 100 percent of the time."

© 2005 AP Wire and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.